As many of you are aware I have been collecting and posting about various vintage/classic 7×35 porro prism models over the last few months. Though my enthusiasm for them is still great my purchasing of these models has slowed quite a bit. I feel as if I have a fairly good handle on performance for many of the various sub designs of these models. Still, I am keeping an eye out for anything unusual that may pop up on “the bay”.
The porro prism design itself, though vastly underrated by the current market, is still something that holds a great deal of interest on my part. My curiosity around the design has led me to look for current production units that might begin to approach some of the performance levels of many of these classic porros. I have owned many of the highly regarded current/semi-current porro prism models such as the Nikon E, EII and SE. I have yet to lay my hands on one of the ED Swift Audubons but hope to eventually.
So, what then is left to try for current porros? Sure, I would love to put my eyes up to the oculars of a Swarovski Habicht but they are out of my price range and not really available anywhere locally for me just to look through. What else is out there that deserves some attention? That was the question I was left with recently. Yes, there are many low price range porro prism models out there…Nikon Action/Action EX, Orion Ultraview, Pentax WP II, Bushnell Legend, etc… I have owned them all at one time or another and have found them to certainly be worth their price and then some. They are excellent performers at their respective price point. The problem though is that it seems as if there aren’t many upper-low to mid-priced models currently available that offer enough of a performance increase over these lower price models. The day of having a high quality $200-$400 just doesn’t seem to have arrived…or has it?
Well, about a month ago I received a tip from another forum member about a screaming deal on a current porro model that falls into this price range, the Vixen Foresta 8×42. I ordered one and received it in short order (gotta love Amazon Prime). This configuration isn’t what this post is about though. Even though I found the 8×42 very impressive optically and ergonomically my fascination with 7x models led me to eventually purchase the highly regarded 7×50.
I say “highly regarded” simply because, although it has never really been discussed in detail here on BF, it has been rated very highly over on Cloudy Nights. The honorable “EdZ” gave it some extremely high marks when he reviewed it several years ago and two forum members (one being our Bob/Ky) have offered up similar favorable comments.
Why hasn’t it caught on more? Well, I am left to believe that it is because of two reasons. For one it is a 50 mm model. 50 mm models tend to be large binoculars and most birders tend to prefer relatively compact models (8×32, 8×42, 10×42, etc…) in the grand scheme of things. Second, since it is a modern 7×50 porro its apparent field of view is fairly narrow…7.1 degrees (advertised and verified). That only equates to about 370 or so feet and/or a 50 degree apparent field of view. Considering my recent fascination with extra wide angle 7x’s (10 or 11 degree apparent) you would think that something this “narrow” wouldn’t interest me. So did I but after receiving it I can honestly say that I was wrong. I have a few ideas why this is the case and will elaborate on them below. So, without further preamble here are my thoughts on this model…
Everyone always loves to cut right to the chase so why bother posting about the accessories or other items initially? I always scan through reviews until I see words like “brightness, sharpness, CA control, etc…”. So let’s start here. Optically this binocular is extraordinary. Its object performance is among the very best binoculars I have had the privilege to own or use. Apparent brightness, apparent contrast and apparent sharpness are all excellent and have to be considered comparable to anything else currently on the market. How could you not expect that from a fully multicoated porro prism model with a triplet 50 mm objective costing at/around $300? Oh, I did forget to mention that. This particular configuration is the only one within the Foresta product line that offers a triplet objective. This helps to produce an image that is practically free of chromatic aberration (color fringing on high contrast objects) throughout most of the entire field of view. I say “most” because CA is very well controlled within the sweet spot of image in focus and relatively free of distortion. Which brings us to another area of optical performance…the size of the sweet spot?
The “Sweet spot” on this model is huge. Without moving the binoculars and just letting your eyes scan around the huge 7+ mm exit pupil it almost appears as if the sweet spot covers the entire field of view. Truly sharp from edge to edge. When panning up and down though you begin to notice a slight loss of image sharpness in the outer 5-10% of the field of view. It is very subtle though and not objectionable in the least. It is in this area of slightly out of focus image that you can also readily detect color fringing. It is moderate in degree but certainly noticeable especially in comparison to the rest of the image.
It is a combination of the size of the sweet spot and the excellent apparent depth of field that make one almost forget about the narrowish field of view.
I have to admit that this is one of only a handful of binoculars that I am never disappointed with when I place them up to my eyes. The image almost feels as if it “assaults” my eyes with it brightness, contrast and sharpness. Because of the porro design’s pronounced 3D effect and because of the 7x magnification these, for me, are almost a “focus it and forget it” type of design. Focusing on an object 25 feet away I am able to view everything from that distance all the way out to infinity without having to touch the focusing knob. I do realize that a bit part of this is the flexibility of my 39 year old eyes but some credit also has to be given to the binocular itself. When you also consider the huge exit pupil and all of the other optical performance areas that this binocular excels at then you end up with a truly comfortable and relaxing image.
Antireflective coating reflections on both the objectives and eyepieces are a deep green. I have an extremely difficult time seeing my reflection in the objectives.
As mentioned previously, this is a 50 mm porro prism binocular so don’t expect to find something “cute and cuddly” like a Nikon SE 8×32. I will post a picture or two below with the 7×50 Foresta in comparison to a smaller 7×35 Vintage porro below. It is about 7 inches long and 7 inches wide and weighs a little over 31 oz. Not a small or compact binocular at all. Still, from my experience with other current models, and many classic 7x50s, it is a fairly lightweight 7×50 model.
In terms of handling I find nothing objectionable about it when you consider my comments above. I do find that I can hold it steadier by gripping it along objective barrels instead of having my hands around the prism housings. This is to be expected considering the length of the binocular and the weight distribution. This is fine if I am focusing on objects beyond 25 feet because of what I mentioned previously. For situations that might warrant constant refocusing I tend to prefer to keep one hand on the objective barrel and the other around the prism housing. This allows me to obtain almost as steady of an image and still be able to focus effortlessly.
Mechanics/fit and finish:
I rate this binocular very highly in terms of fit and finish. The rubber, pebbled armoring is very comfortable to hold and yet provides enough purchase for my hands not to slip off of the barrels or prism housing. It is fully armored except for the central hinge itself.
Focusing tension and speed are certainly to my liking. It takes 1.25 turns to go from a close focus of about 12 feet (notably under the advertised spec of 19 feet) to infinity. Focusing tension is very smooth and precise. There is no play or backlash in the focusing mechanism. Focusing is clockwise from close focus to infinity.
The rotating rubber eyecups have two intermediate stops between fully collapsed and fully extended. Advertised eye relief is 21 mm but you lose 3-4 mm because of how recessed the ocular lens surface is in comparison to the edge of the eyecup. I have no problem seeing the fieldstop completely around the outer edge of the image.
Central hinge tension on this particular unit is perfect for my tastes. Stiff enough so that it does not move inadvertently.
The strap lugs are recessed into the prism housing on the bottom/ocular corner of the prism housings. The binoculars hang flat on my chest when in use.
I make no attempt to hide that these are not your “average birding binoculars”. They aren’t your average birding binoculars because of their size and weight. They also aren’t your average birding binoculars because the optical performance in almost every area besides field of view is among the very best I have had the privilege of using. If size isn’t an issue for you and you want the best optical performance and are on a relatively tight budget then I highly recommend this binocular. Its optical performance level is only equaled by the value it offers.